Like Magic, Cirque Buys Illusionists

Shows of The Works Entertainment 'a perfect fit' for company, Lamarre says

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: February 6, 2019

An act from The Illusionists, the best-known franchise of The Works Entertainment. Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group paid a reported $40 million to acquire the company. (Courtesy Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group)

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group has acquired The Works Entertainment, the production company behind the hit stage-show franchises The Illusionists and Circus 1903 — The Golden Age of Circus.

"The shows that The Works have put together are a perfect fit for Cirque," said Daniel Lamarre, Cirque’s president and CEO. "These shows have all the criteria for the type of entertainment that Cirque has built its 35-year reputation on. They have no stars, are very scalable and are mostly visually driven. It's a lot easier to travel and promote shows with no language barrier.”

"Cirque has an amazing distribution platform in 350 cities across the world," he said. "We'll be able to bring these great shows to places they have not been before."

Lamarre said that the two companies "have been courting each other for a year now." The deal was signed Feb. 1 and announced Wednesday.

Financial details were not released, but Lamarre told The New York Times that the price was about $40 million.

"We are a circus of magic," said Simon Painter, The Works Entertainment's founder and creative director. "What we do is right in line with what Cirque has done so successfully for many, many years."

The Works was founded in 2012 by Painter and executive producer Tim Lawson. Their first show was The Illusionists, which ran 10 performances at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. It's grown to five versions that tour theaters internationally. Shows are running now in Australia, China, Europe, the Middle East and Broadway.

The Illusionists shows have five to seven magicians. "The show is the vehicle," Painter said. "The shows are built around having the best magicians, but we don't rely on any particular star."

Thirty to 40 people travel with The Illusionists shows along with two to six trucks. Load-in takes "around a day." Ticket prices run $70-$80 in North America, rising to $125 on Broadway, and are "based on territory norms in international markets."

Painter said he and Lawson had a contract to stay with the company "for the foreseeable future.

"We value their contribution highly and it was key to us that they stay with the productions,” Lamarre said. “What we really acquired here are two amazing entrepreneurs."

Lamarre does not expect any cost-cutting as the The Works is folded into Cirque. "The synergy will come from the revenue base," he said.

It will be a collaboration going forward," Painter said. "We will continue as normal and look forward to input from the Cirque organization."

There has been no discussion of a name change, Painter said.

With The Works shows in its roster, Cirque will produce 10 shows in 2019, Lamarre said. 

This is the third acquisition for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group in recent years, after acquiring Blue Man Group in 2017 and VStar Entertainment Group in 2018.

"We're becoming quite a big player in the theatrical industry, and with the acquisitions of Blue Man and VStar and now The Works shows we are getting a lot of leverage with the communities we go into," he said. "We're showing up much more often and with more content."

The acquisition was financed using a portion of a new $120 million investment by Fonds de Solidarité FTQ and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec into Cirque Entertainment Group.

Cirque recently announced its newest show, to be performed at Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which will stray from the classic Cirque acrobatic formula and showcase stunts and special effects in movies; a new show in Hangzhou, China; and a new show to make its premiere in Barcelona about international soccer star Lionel Messi.

"This acquisition confirms the company’s position in the industry and clearly shows our commitment to expand Cirque from a company solely focused on circus arts to a live entertainment creator, producer and promoter," Lamarre said. "We are bringing the Cirque brand to another level with this acquisition.

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: February 6, 2019